The documentary photographer aims his camera at the real world to record truthfulness. At the same time, he must strive for form, to devise effective ways of organizing and using the material. For content and form are interrelated. The problems presented by content and form must be so developed that the result is fundimentally [sic] true to the realities of life as we know it. The chief problem is to find a form that adequately represents the reality.
Cartier-Bresson has said that photography seizes a 'decisive moment', that's true except that it shouldn't be taken too narrowly...does my picture of a cobweb in the rain represent a decisive moment? The exposure time was probably three or four minutes. That's a pretty long moment. I would say the decisive moment in that case was the moment in which I saw this thing and decided I wanted to photograph it.
And if you can find out something about the laws of your own growth and vision as well as those of photography you may be able to relate the two, create an object that has a life of its own, which transcends craftsmanship. That is a long road, and because it must be your own road nobody can teach it to you or find it for you. There are no shortcuts, no rules.
The camera machine cannot evade the objects which are in front of it. When the photographer selects this movement, the light, the objects, he must be true to them. If he includes in his space a strip of grass, it must be felt as the living differentiated thing it is and so recorded. It must take its proper but no less important place as a shape and a texture in relationship to the mountain tree or what not, which are included.
The decision as to when to photograph, the actual click of the shutter, is partly controlled from the outside, by the flow of life, but it also comes from the mind and the heart of the artist. The photograph is his vision of the world and expresses, however subtly, his values and convictions.
It has always been my belief that the true artist, like the true scientist, is a researcher using materials and techniques to dig into the truth and meaning of the world in which he himself lives; and what he creates, or better perhaps, brings back, are the objective results of his explorations. The measure of his talent--of his genius, if you will--is the richness he finds in such a life's voyage of discovery and the effectiveness with which he is able to embody it through his chosen medium.
I read the other day that Minor White said it takes twenty years to become a photographer. I think that is a bit of an exaggeration. I would say, judging from myself, that it takes at least eight or nine years. But it does not take any longer than it takes to learn to play the piano or the violin. If it takes twenty years, you might as well forget about it!
The photographer's problem is to see clearly the limitations and at the same time the potential qualities of his medium, for it is precisely here that honesty no less than intensity of vision is the pre-requisite of a living expression. The fullest realization of this is accomplished without tricks of process or manipulation, through the use of straight photographic methods.
The portrait of a person is one of the most difficult things to do. It means you must almost bring the presence of that person photographed to other people in such a way that they don't have to know that person personally, but that they are still confronted with a human being that they won't forget. That's a portrait.
Look at the things around you, the immediate world around you. If you are alive, it will mean something to you, and if you care enough about photography, and if you know how to use it, you will want to photograph that meaningness. If you let other people's vision get between the world and your own, you will achieve that extremely common and worthless thing, a pictorial photograph.
The existence of a medium, after all, is its absolute justification, if as so many seem to think, it needs one and all comparison of potentialities is useless and irrelevant. Whether a water-color is inferior to an oil, or whether a drawing, an etching, or a photograph is not as important as either, is inconsequent. To have to despise something in order to respect something else is a sign of impotence. [emphasis added] Let us rather accept joyously and with gratitude everything through which the spirit of man seeks to an ever fuller and more intense self-realization.
Your photography is a record of your living - for anyone who really sees. You may see and be affected by other people's ways, you may even use them to find your own, but you will have eventually to free yourself of them. That is what Nietzche meant when he said, 'I have just read Schopenhauer, now I have to get rid of him.' He knew how insidious other people's ways could be, particularly those which have the forcefulness of profound experience, if you let them get between you and your own personal vision.